U.S. a Late Adopter of 'Smart Phones'
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
We put that question to NPR's John McChesney for our series on the changing phone.
JOHN MCCHESNEY: We have some pretty smart phones in this country. But check what this Japanese phone will do.
GPS: a soccer game.
PATRICK BRAY: What's cool about this is people just do this all day. You see people who work at bars and people who work at restaurants or places where they can sit down. And they've all got their little TVs up and running. It's a kick in a butt. And you can see the quality, it's excellent.
(SOUNDBITE OF A SOCCER GAME)
MCCHESNEY: The phone also has a high-quality, five megapixel camera. Most photo phones we have are only one or two megapixels. There is also photo editing software on board and built-in GPS. Point it at a hotel or a restaurant and you can get reviews or menus. Put it in a cradle overnight and download videos or music into the eight gigabytes of storage.
BRAY: I use this as my electronic wallet - my phone also. I put, you know, 100 bucks or so on it. And I walk up to (unintelligible) coffee, and I just charge my coffee by pulling out my cell phone. I don't worry about pennies or change or yen, as it is here, not penny.
MCCHESNEY: Bray walks over to the convenience store and buys a package of gum.
BRAY: I walk up and there is a little place next to the cash register, and you just lay your phone up there gently. And the little bell rings when the money has been withdrawn.
MCCHESNEY: And you can use it to buy subway tickets. The phone records your departure station and calculates your fare when you pass it over the sensor at your destination.
CHETAN SHARMA: It's definitely true that in Japan and Korea, the quality of handsets is much better compared to U.S. and even to Europe.
MCCHESNEY: Chetan Sharma is a mobile phone industry consultant based in Seattle.
SHARMA: The reason is the quality of the network, which allows you to do broadband activities on these devices.
MCCHESNEY: So the network drives the hardware. And in Japan and Europe, they launched broadband mobile wireless back in 2001, while we only got around to it in 2005.
SHARMA: Both in Japan and Korea, people are already accustomed to using Internet on these devices.
MCCHESNEY: Michael Kleeman, a senior fellow at the University of California, San Diego, says there's a reason for that.
MICHAEL KLEEMAN: Long commute times, first of all. Not a lot of space. And so if I have got a two or three- hour commute time, most of my free time is going to be spent nowhere near a laptop.
MCCHESNEY: In Europe, which also got a four-year jump on the United States with wireless broadband, the phones all use the same system called GSM. Again, Michael Kleeman.
KLEEMAN: My cell phone that I buy in London can talk to any network in Europe because they are all GSMs. So that meant that the cell phone manufacturers didn't have to make three and four flavors of cell phone.
MCCHESNEY: That economy of scale allowed phone makers to concentrate on innovation in Europe. Here in the United States, carriers use several communication standards so the phone makers have had to make phones for each one of them. But, gadget-lovers, things are looking up here in the United States. There is the Apple iPhone and Verizon has just launched its Voyager smart phone.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MCCHESNEY: Verizon's Heidi Flato flips open a sleek Voyager and the tiny stereo speakers are, well, they're not hi-fi, but you can buy and download music directly into the phone. The Voyager has a touch screen, but when you flip it open, it has another screen you can use with a full (unintelligible) keyboard. So, how does it compare with its Japanese cousin - two megapixel camera, instead of five, same amount of storage, eight gigs, no credit card capability and broadcast television?
HEIDI FLATO: Mobile TV is definitely - it's coming. It's the next big thing. And we've actually launched V Cast mobile TV in several markets across the U.S.
MCCHESNEY: And you get full Internet access, but it's limited by the fact that most Web sites haven't tailored their pages to that small screen. But America's smart phone market may explode soon. Again, Michael Kleeman.
KLEEMAN: We have an opportunity to leapfrog. There's a lot of money looking for the next big success. Everyone I know in the valley believes that mobile applications have a potential to create phenomenal values. 80 percent of Americans have mobile phones now.
MCCHESNEY: John McChesney, NPR News, San Francisco.
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